A taste of the mountains
After two long punishing flat stages nearly 200 kilometers each, Le Tour de Filipinas was about to kick it up a notch and pick up some serious altitude. Finally, after the sprinters had their field day, the climbers would have their time to shine.
With a length of just 104 kms, Stage 3 was almost just half of the 196-km long Stage 2. But it also presented the first serious climb of Le Tour, and everyone was looking forward to finally testing themselves on the race’s first real mountain stage. However, everyone also knew that it was just a prelude, and that the real test would come the day after in the dreaded Stage 4.
I and some members of the Living Asia crew left Cauayan early before the race started. We needed to pick a spot where we could film riders just as they made their way up the mountains in the town of Diadi.
With altitude gains of up to 300 meters, the course was a perfect sampler for what’s to come. But first, the riders would need to deal with the bane of all road races–vehicular traffic.
The course from Cauayan City in Isabela to the town of Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya would go through the traffic chokepoints of Echague and Santiago City before hitting the mountain roads. The traffic from Cauayan to Diadi was bad. It was almost like Makati on a payday Friday.
The chances of anyone sprinting ahead and cutting through that miasma of motorized madness were practically nil. You didn’t have to be a genius to figure that out. If there was going to be a breakaway, it would have to happen in the climb, and that was where set up our cameras on a hill overlooking the first steep ascent of Diadi.
As usual, we didn’t have to wait long for the riders to arrive. Amid blaring sirens, we saw the first riders—and they were both Filipinos! LBC’s Franciso Ramos and 7-Eleven’s Ryan Tugawin were charging up the mountain.
But hot on their heels was the rest of the peloton, where all the heavy hitters from the foreign squads were. I guessed they were keeping an eye on each other and making sure no one did any funny business ahead of Stage 4.
After witnessing the dramatic turn of events in Stage 2 where the breakaway group was eventually caught by the peloton, I was not so sure if the two Pinoy riders leading the pack would be able to maintain their lead.
I was right. In the end, the main pack caught up with the leaders. The stage was taken by Iranian rider Mehdi Sohrabi of TPT. But at least, he shared the podium with two Pinoy riders—Rustom Lim of LBC came in second, while Ronnel Hualda of 7-eleven took third.
The yellow jersey meanwhile stayed with South Korean rider Lee Ki Suk of CCN, but the Korean sprinter would need to dig deep to keep his lead going into the mountains.
In terms of distance, the course seemed like a walk in the park for the seasoned pros. I guess that the race organizers meant it that way–a kind of rest day for the real test ahead which was the killer fourth stage.